July 27th, 2010
10:41 PM ET

Group: Dams would doom Mekong River's giant catfish

The Mekong giant catfish is the world's third-largest freshwater fish species, the WWF says.

Dams proposed for the Mekong River in Southeast Asia would drive the world’s third-largest freshwater fish species to virtual extinction, according to a World Wildlife Fund report

Any of the 11 hydropower dams planned for the river’s mainstream south of China would prevent the Mekong giant catfish from migrating to its spawning grounds, the WWF said Tuesday in a news release. 

The catfish, with a maximum length and weight of nearly 10 feet and about 770 pounds, are too big to swim across such dams, said Dekila Chungyalpa, director of WWF’s Greater Mekong Program. 

If the dams prevent the car-sized fish from reaching their spawning grounds, their population will plummet, the WWF said. The portion of the river in question currently is free-flowing, according to the WWF. 

“Building [the dams] will lead to the collapse of the wild population of this iconic species,” Chungyalpa said. The catfish already are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List as "critically endangered." 

The dams are proposed for spots where the river travels through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The WWF says one in particular, planned in northern Laos, has entered a critical stage of assessment before members of the Mekong River Commission - made of representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - make a recommendation on whether to allow its construction. 

On its website, the WWF says at least 49 other migratory species, including three other giant freshwater fish species, also are vulnerable to the development of dams on the river’s mainstream. 

The WWF says that to meet energy demands, hydropower projects could be built on certain Mekong River tributaries, as opposed to the mainstream. 

The dam in northern Laos also would reduce sediment flowing downstream to the Mekong River Delta, reducing the delta’s ability to replenish itself and lead to more coastal erosion, a statement on the WWF’s website said.

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Filed under: Animals • Cambodia • Laos • Thailand • Vietnam • World
soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Tienhoa

    Being Vietnamese, I object to build more dams on the Mekong river to generate electricity because these constructions will damage natural environment, affecting life of thousands of people living along it as well as fresh water species in its bank. Thus, I can argue that the cost to the ecosystems is huge unless such project continue.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Riel23

      so your are saying that the people of the region need to leave without power or electricity so that you can go and stare at some pretty cat fish. That their hospitals, schools, homes,streets and businesses should not have electricity because of some cat fish. These people live in primitive conditions they need this kind of infrastructure in order to improve their quality of life. You know a lot of what you see today in America in terms of infrastructure had to be built at the cost for the environment. Its a price we have to pay. A lot of caribou, wolfs, rabbits, eagles, moose and deer had to die in order to build New York City. So why don't you people give up your electricity and see how it is without it?

      July 28, 2010 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Nathanael

      I am glad you brought up this point, no where in the article does it mention the impact this will have on the residents that will be displaced in any of the areas where the dams will be built.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Nathanael

      Riel23, its interesting that all the species that you mentioned in your argument to push electricity on a populace only includes animals that as exceeding abundant in this country. Now it may be a different story if you lived in Vietnam and the last endangered populations of caribou, wolfs, rabbits, eagles, moose and deer lived on that river and they where your only food source then maybe you would be a little more concerned if someone wanted to make a huge lake where there habitat is.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jessica, Grand Rapids MI

      I actually think the lack of sediment deposit will be more problematic than the loss of giant catfish (since without the dam, it's likely they'll be fished to extinction anyway). Look at Louisianna – thanks to all the levee's, the southern part of LA is slowly drifting into the gulf. Entire fields are being washed away, becuase there's no new sediment filtering down and depositing.

      July 28, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • MuddyBuddy

      No, the person is saying that 100,000's of people already make their living off the river in a way that will be damaged or destroyed if they build the damns. Thousands of people make their living fishing the giant cat fish, and pass experience has shown that the other fish which migrate will suffer massive population losses if they build the damns. Yes, you may be able to prevent the end of species with fish ladders and the like, but you can not prevent dramatic drops in population. For example, if you compare the value of the Salmon catch before and after the building of damns on their spawning rivers the yearly lost of revenues compares fairly well with value of the power generated. So even if we pretend that the natural environment, and preserving the centuries old way of life for 100,000's of people have no value at all, their still is a cost comparison to be made.
      I would estimate the value of such an unique specifies in the billions, but any rational estimate has to be 10'smillions a year, and then there is the cost of uprooting the traditional societies which depend on the rivers. Pass experience has shown that is often a very costly experience as well. While I would be classified as a tree hugger, that in no way means I am less rational than the "growth" at any cost.

      July 28, 2010 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jonah

    It would be a tragedy if a species as magnificent and primally awesome as that were to perish. While I support hydroelectric power there is an appropriate place for it and that is not blocking the migratory routes or spawning estuaries of any species of animal. Especially one as amazing as this.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jonah

    @BenDover. Also fun to type by the way. It is not truly an article. It is a blog.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. ged

    Does Iowa ring a bell in regards to building a dam? Dam that!

    July 28, 2010 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. jason

    Whatcha gonna do brother when hulkamania runs wild on you GRRRRRRR they should have never stolen the name away from the world wrestling federation. why couldnt they have just renamed themselves the UWF (united wildlife foundation) or something cause i get so confused when i see WWF pop up LMAO I dont think animals i think of legendary wrestlers. Crazy how they let WWE keep the WWF name all through the 80's only to steal it by legal means so far down the road

    July 28, 2010 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jade

    Slice that thing open and see how many heads fall out!!!!!!!!

    Du du ... du du.... da da daaaaaaa................... EEK

    July 28, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  7. 200humans

    Did Nature not read the science article this week about the human race being down to a few hundred members on the southern tip of Africa (during an ice age)? Anyways, are we so sure that this Catfish is supposed to be the top of the food chain in the river? Perhaps the river dolphins they keep killing off would have eliminated the giant catfish. How come we never get this whole ecosystem manipulation thing right? That is an indictment on both sides of the coin!

    July 28, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. XShanDanX

    They should of let it go... would of been an honorable thing to do.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Sefer

    WWF is doing same thing over and over, fighting to prevent industrial development in the third world. World resources are limited and UK aristocrats wants poor people to stay poor, so they could continue with their slow and steady exploitation. This is actually shameless. Nobody is preventing BP from polluting the world, that is OK in the eyes of WWF. God forbid Vietnam should have electricity and industrial development! (All european rivers have dams, they do not complain about that.)

    July 28, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Eze Uba

      You hit it on exactly to the point. No dams in under-developed countries, but dams are all ok in Europe and America, do not destroy forests and bushes in Africa so animals will live in their natural habitat, but its ok to keep them in zoos in Europe. Do not cut down trees in Africa and Brazil, but Canada and America have the biggest loggers in the world. High hypocrisy, if you ask me... one day they'll come up and ask us not to breath again so there can be enough oxygen for Europeans and Americans.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Maggie

      What else do you expect them to do? Give up and let the whole world be destroyed? It's not true to say they ignore the damn facts in Europe and America, it's just you didn't spend time to read the related articles. So don't comment those annoying things. Any contribution to protect our planet is welcome!

      July 28, 2010 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • FireWife

      Eza Uba, it's quite frightening the skewed points of view that each country has of the other. You see the Americas and Europe as selfish, indulgent and greedy. While they (we) see the Middle East and Asia as impoverished, and having no rights or having chains on their legs and no free will.

      It's very sad how the media has managed to vet us all against each other. If you would give us a chance, (America) you would see that for the MOST PART, we are loving, welcoming and hard working.

      July 28, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. John Lane

    No more dams. Anywhere. Period.

    Dismantle the dams that impede fish needing to swim upriver to spawn.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. VegasRage

    Brink of extinction? Most dams are loaded with with fish, catfish love to hang out at the bottom near dams. Not sure I agree with their assessment.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • chimuelo

      Are you seriously stupid? Did you even read the article?

      The dam would prevent the catfish from going to spawning grounds. That means extinction you idiot.

      July 28, 2010 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rassayana Atrindh

    Obviously the WWF hasn't discovered the giant specimens of channel and blue cats that are found to be thriving below many dams here in the US. If anything, the dams churning and concentrating the food sources, accounts for their larger size and extended ages.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. wil

    Wow that's a massive fish.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jade

    There are catfish with eyes as big as saucers that hang out at our dam.

    I know it's legend... but supposedly a scuba diver got eaten by one. Gulp.

    July 28, 2010 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. Laura Castillo

    It's so sad that they had to kill that fish for their fifteen minutes of fame. Something that is so endangered. People are just stupid

    July 28, 2010 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
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